QUESTION: I have a six-year-old girl. She appears outgoing, but in recent weeks I noticed she was a little quiet some days when I collected her from school.
I asked her if everything was okay and she told me that there had been some fighting in the playground. I didn’t push it with too many questions as I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it.
As time went by there were stories every day of different things that happened, always involving my daughter and two other girls, who are all the same age and the oldest girls in the class.
I am aware that my daughter is as much to blame as the other two girls because I have observed her playing with other friends and noticed that she often wants games to be played on her terms.
I have tried to explain to her that play has to be fair, as other kids will get annoyed and not want to play with someone like this.
I think this is what has happened in the playground with the two girls that she plays with. I feel sorry for her as no parents want their child to be bullied or to be the bully.
I do want my kids to be able to assert themselves, but in a way that is fair and acceptable.
I suppose my question to you is how do I achieve this?
ANSWER: If your daughter is indeed assertive about what she wants, even at age six, then that is a good thing. What you have recognised is that her assertiveness needs to be tempered with a consideration for others and a willingness, sometimes, to put aside her own wishes for the sake of group cohesiveness.
It seems like it would be a good idea to discuss the situation with her teacher. At the moment you only have your daughter’s version of events and it will help to have a more rounded perspective on what is going on.
If indeed the situation is as she describes, then the other two girls that she is sparking off sound like they need exactly the same help to learn how to get on co-operatively rather than to be competitive all the time.
This may be something that the teacher could address in school. If you know the parents of the other girls then it is worth talking to them too about what seems to be going on among the girls.
They may also be concerned by the fighting and be keen to consider ways of helping the girls to get on better.
For example, you might want to teach them some specific skills about sharing or turn-taking. When this is done by an adult, who remains present to monitor and show them what to do, it can be very effective.
So, if the girls were playing together outside of school then you, or one of the other parents, might find yourself saying things like: “First it’ll be girl ‘x’ then girl ‘y’ will have a turn and finally girl ‘z’ will have her go. I’ll make sure you each take fair turns.”
Having the adult there to ensure fairness and equity of time or opportunity allows them to relax, knowing that they don’t have to “fight” for their chance. In the same way you can teach them about listening to each other and, most importantly, listening to each others’ feelings.
Naturally six-year-olds are likely to be self-centred and might struggle to see anyone else’s point of view.
With an adult there to get involved in their discussions and their negotiations they can soon learn to take other viewpoints into consideration.
It may be that whatever parent is there has to say things like: “Well girl ‘x’ seems very unhappy about playing that game, and you seem upset about playing her game. You may just have to decide on a third game that you all want to play.”
Or it may be that the parent facilitates them to take turns playing each game.
Importantly the adult presence just makes sure that there is greater fairness and justice in how the negotiating goes and how they then follow through on what they have agreed.
They may already realise that they have to compromise sometimes. But it may be that because they are all strong and determined personalities they are afraid to compromise because the others then don’t follow through on their promises and they may each end up frustrated and anxious to make sure it goes their way the next time.
By being there, adults can help them to compromise but then be reassured that their compromise will be rewarded by getting some of what they want too. This allows them to trust each other more. They may need several of these facilitated play sessions before they really learn about sharing, compromise and turn-taking.
In the same way it might take them some time to really trust that the others are going to negotiate and play by the rules.
So whether it is you as their parents, or their teacher, the girls need some very practical direction and coaching about how to behave with each other.
Showing them to get on with each other is always going to be more effective than giving in to them for not getting on. – Irish Independent